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How to disconnect from the office — now

About the author

Alina Dizik is a freelance journalist who covers consumer trends, careers, lifestyle and small business for national publications. Her work appears in the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Men's Journal and BBC.

  • Get ahead by working less?

    Leaning in isn’t for everyone.

    Indeed, some professionals are trying to leave the office earlier and spend more time relaxing or on outside pursuits. To make this possible, they have to adopt more productive habits.

    Not that it’s easy. Increased connectivity means many people find it nearly impossible to disconnect in their non-working hours. You’d think this would allow us to become productivity machines. Not so. The always-connected work life results in long, less productive days, according to research.

    In fact, working fewer hours can actually make you more productive at your job, according to more than 20 years of research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

    Take a lesson or two from the playbooks of these five professionals, who vowed to work less and actually made it happen. Click on the images above to see the work lifehacks they employed to take back their time and still stay successful.

  • Don't use weekends to catch up

    Tim Fernihough Toronto, Canada

    When Fernihough started running the IT department at software development firm MyPlanet, the 28 year old used weekends to catch up on projects that he didn’t get done during the week.

    The problem: knowing he had the extra days to complete the work meant he was less rigorous about his schedule Monday through Friday. Instead of being if-needed days, Saturday and Sunday became part of the work week — and his colleagues knew it. After about six months of that, Fernihough said he “became fed up with the sheer volume of requests.”

    “My weekends are protected now,” said Fernihough, a co-founder of the company. “If it wasn’t so important that I couldn’t prioritise it first, there is no reason it can’t happen on Monday.”

    Fernihough also does not answer or check messages on his work phone on the weekends. Also, during the week, he is more conscious of distractions.

    The result: Fernihough took back almost 10 hours each week for personal pursuits.

    How do you take back your time and stay disconnected from the office? Share your tips or comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, on our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

    (Photo: Courtesy Tim Fernihough)

  • Get a "dumb" phone for the weekend

    Marc Munier Brighton, United Kingdom

    In addition to his smartphone, Munier, who works for public relations software firm Cision, uses a simple phone without an internet connection on the weekends. It’s an idea he got from a friend who’d listened to him complain about how distracted he felt by work when he was at home.

    It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Rather than carrying two phones and keeping two numbers, Munier, 38, moves the SIM card from one phone to the other. He’s still connected in the evenings if he’s needed and during his commute to work, but he disconnects on the weekends for “a bit of detachment”, he said.

    It took some time, but most of Munier’s coworkers have learned that he doesn’t answer emails on the weekend, he said.

    “I’ve got this down to a fine art,” Munier said.

    (Photo: Courtesy Marc Munier)

  • Schedule email checks (yes, you can do it)

    Mayukh Choudhury Bangalore, India

    About a year ago, Choudhury, the co-founder of Milaap.org, a social lending startup, made a decision that changed his work habits — and won back his time. He would stop mindlessly checking email as soon as it appeared in his inbox.

    He would get so bogged down answering every little email about crowdfunding campaigns that it took Choudhury, 31, forever to get the rest of his work done.

    Nowadays, Choudhury does most of his emailing during three distinct time periods: early morning, late afternoons and evenings — each limited to less than 45 minutes. To limit an overload of emails being sent from his account, he uses Boomerang, a tool that schedules emails to go out at the end of day.

    While Choudhury still periodically scans email subject lines for any urgent notes from clients, he estimates the regimen saves him at least 10 hours per week. Of course, staying disciplined about the thrice-daily email sessions is challenging, he admits.

    “There is always the temptation to break out of the schedule or jump into something,” Choudhury said.

    (Photo: Courtesy Mayukh Choudhury)

  • Be the early bird in the office

    Jeff Cooper East Norrington, Pennsylvania (US)

    After skipping his usual morning workout to get to the office for a 06:00 call one day, Cooper had a realisation that changed his work life. Quiet mornings were the best time to work — and actually get a lot done. Now, instead of heading to the gym, Cooper goes to the office at 06:30. Most of his coworkers arrive at ExpoLogic, an event registration company that Cooper runs, closer to 09:00.

    The quiet time before everyone else arrives allows Cooper,42, to get the most important tasks of the day out of the way, before he gets pulled into morning small talk and other office distractions.

    Cooper moved his workout to lunch time and is out of the office by 16:00. When needed, he’ll finish up work in the evening, but Cooper estimates that his early bird hours save him one or two hours per day in the office.

    The toughest part of his productivity hack has been demonstrating to others that he’s not just leaving work early.

    “I used to feel guilty for leaving the office between [15:00 and 16:00],” Cooper said. Now “my employees realise the hours that I put in.”

    (Photo: Courtesy Jeff Cooper)

  • Make everybody's tasks transparent

    Mahmood Al-Yousif Bahrain

    The never ending trail of email and meetings left Al-Yousif, founder of corporate video production company Gulf Broadcast, bogged down in his inbox. Sometimes, dozens of emails might be sent simply to update the status of one stage of a project. The result was wasted hours just reading through mail and trying to determine whether each video project would meet the client deadline.

    So, he decided to try a more automated tracking system.

    Employees now use project management software Asana to organise teams and promote transparency without the need for email. Anyone in the company can see the status of projects others are handling. It’s helped Al-Yousif, 52, cut down on emails. There are fewer — and more useful — meetings, and it eventually saved him time. Al-Yousif estimates he now works several hours less each week.

    “Our meetings are now discussions about future growth rather than task listing,” said Al-Yousif.

    Getting employees onboard wasn’t easy. It took several months to get everyone to input their work and status reports into the tool. At first, most of Al-Yousif’s employees still felt it would be easier to just send an email and weren’t all on board with the new way of tracking projects.

    “It was a learning curve that was relatively steep,” he said.

    (Photo: Courtesy Mahmood Al-Yousif)

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